I know Cinderella, Snow White, and other fairy tale characters. I know almost all Disney characters. But who’s Alfie? I thought to myself when I saw this little thin book among the rows of books that were being sold near the entrance of a supermarket where I would go to to buy meat and vegetables. I got curious with the cover showing an excited child raising an envelope. When I turned and scanned the first few pages, I was enthralled. The drawings are so nice, reminds me of the drawings of the 70s or 80s era, and though I don’t generally like kids, I was drawn to the cute little boy named Alfie. So I bought the book and continued my reading at home.
Alfie was about to attend a birthday party of his classmate, Bernard. And it was going to be Alfie’s first birthday party so he was kind of nervous and shy. But his Mum and his sister Annie Rose were there to support him all the way, with his Mum orienting him about the nice stuff to experience in birthday parties like the fun games and delicious food. But he needed to go there alone. His Mum and his sister would just drop him there and fetch him when it is time to go home.
On the day that he was going to the party, he decided at the last minute to bring with him his old blanket. Just something to comfort him during the party, he thought, because even if he was excited, he was terrified as well. It’s his first birthday party.
Alfie’s a sweet boy that aside from greeting the celebrator a happy birthday like what his Mum advised him to do, despite his shyness, he gladly offered his gift to Bernard. And Bernard, who turned out to be a mischievous lad, quickly tore apart his gift open. Seeing the crayons, he suddenly threw them up in the air.
And it was nice to observe Alfie’s reaction to Bernard’s silly action: he was just quiet and so behaved. He didn’t cry nor got angry. He just hugged his blanket.
When it was time to eat, Alfie just held on to his blanket. Alfie liked the tea… but holding on to his blanket made eating rather difficult. It got all mixed up with the jelly and crisps, and covered in sticky crumbs. Then came the games.
From the picture above, Alfie is third from left. The kids were jumping up and down, playing with all the bubbles except for Alfie who was minding his blanket all the time. Until he saw Min, a little girl crying because Bernard popped her bubble. He noticed how more scared and nervous Min was around Bernard. Bernard even went behind a bush and came out wearing a mask and making terrible growling noises: Grrrr! Grrr, grrrr, GRRRR! ACHT! He went crawling round the garden, sounding very fierce and frightening. Min began to cry again. She clung on to Alfie.
Bernard’s Mum quickly cut Bernard’s threatening manner, scaring Min. “Get up at once, Bernard,” said Bernard’s Mum. “It’s not that kind of game. Now let’s all stand in a circle, everyone, and join hands.”
Bernard stopped growling, but wouldn’t take off his tiger mask. Instead he grabbed Alfie’s hand to pull him into the circle. Bernard’s Mum tried to take Min’s hand and bring her into the circle, too. But Min wouldn’t hold anyone’s hand but Alfie’s. She went on crying. She cried and cried.
Wanting to comfort Min, Alfie then made a brave decision. He put down his blanket, very carefully, in a safe place underneath the table. Now he could hold Min’s hand too, as well as Bernard’s.
They played and sang and had so much fun. It was comforting to see Alfie comfortably mingling with other kids, even with mischievous Bernard. I find this a very nice story which I can read as often as I want since Alfie is such a darling, a rare kind, who at the beginning was painfully shy but became a hero to another kid who was just as shy but more frightened.
“Alfie Gives a Hand,” first published in 1983, is a story written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes.